Microsoft has finally cracked down on a loophole in the Xbox Store that allowed emulators to be downloaded and used on Xbox consoles to play older games, including many unavailable on Xbox consoles. And while rumors are flying as to the impetus for the sudden change, Microsoft is pointing to a pretty straightforward, long-standing official store policy as the reason.
Emulator users and creators first began pointing out the change earlier this week. Previously, emulators were able to be accessed on the Xbox Store via direct links on an Xbox's Edge browser, and those emulators could be run indefinitely once downloaded even if the app download itself was found and removed. However, numerous users have reported that popular emulators such as Xenia no longer launch on consoles even if previously downloaded – instead, an error message occurs.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's been a good run.
— 🇮🇪 gamr13 🇮🇪 (@gamr12) April 6, 2023
As a result, the emulation community has expressed frustration and anger, especially by users who claim to have promoted legal emulation to play games they already own on older Xbox consoles, but which are unavailable on current Xbox hardware. That said, there are numerous games available through emulators that were also either for sale on Xbox's store or have never been available on Xbox at all, such as Wii and GameCube games. Notably emulation on Xbox consoles is still possible in the console's developer mode, which costs $20.
In the wake of this change, speculation has emerged as to the reason Microsoft is cracking down on emulators now after allowing the loophole to exist for so long. One popular rumor suggested the culprit was not Xbox, but Nintendo, supposedly demanding action over its copyrighted games being played on Xbox consoles without permission. But in a statement to IGN, Microsoft says this isn't the case.
"The information currently circulating on Twitter is not accurate," reads a statement from Microsoft. "Our actions are based on a long standing policy on content distributed to the Store to ensure alignment with our Microsoft Store Polices. Per 10.13.10, Products that emulate a game system or game platform are not allowed on any device family."
The policy the team points to has been in place historically, so it remains unclear what prompted Microsoft to let the loophole remain for so long, or to crackdown on it now, specifically. In a statement to Kotaku, Microsoft said that it "continually evolve our mechanisms for reviewing and taking enforcement actions on content distributed to the Store to ensure alignment with our Microsoft Store Policies," possibly indicating that the company may have been looking for a solution to the emulator workaround for some time and may have only just now found it.
Previously, Xbox head Phil Spencer has spoken in favor of legal emulation as a solution to games preservaton, though notably such an endeavor is challenging to permit without also allowing for illegal emulation.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.